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ReleaseSemaphore function

Increases the count of the specified semaphore object by a specified amount.


BOOL WINAPI ReleaseSemaphore(
  _In_      HANDLE hSemaphore,
  _In_      LONG   lReleaseCount,
  _Out_opt_ LPLONG lpPreviousCount


hSemaphore [in]

A handle to the semaphore object. The CreateSemaphore or OpenSemaphore function returns this handle.

This handle must have the SEMAPHORE_MODIFY_STATE access right. For more information, see Synchronization Object Security and Access Rights.

lReleaseCount [in]

The amount by which the semaphore object's current count is to be increased. The value must be greater than zero. If the specified amount would cause the semaphore's count to exceed the maximum count that was specified when the semaphore was created, the count is not changed and the function returns FALSE.

lpPreviousCount [out, optional]

A pointer to a variable to receive the previous count for the semaphore. This parameter can be NULL if the previous count is not required.

Return value

If the function succeeds, the return value is nonzero.

If the function fails, the return value is zero. To get extended error information, call GetLastError.


The state of a semaphore object is signaled when its count is greater than zero and nonsignaled when its count is equal to zero. The process that calls the CreateSemaphore function specifies the semaphore's initial count. Each time a waiting thread is released because of the semaphore's signaled state, the count of the semaphore is decreased by one.

Typically, an application uses a semaphore to limit the number of threads using a resource. Before a thread uses the resource, it specifies the semaphore handle in a call to one of the wait functions. When the wait function returns, it decreases the semaphore's count by one. When the thread has finished using the resource, it calls ReleaseSemaphore to increase the semaphore's count by one.

Another use of ReleaseSemaphore is during an application's initialization. The application can create a semaphore with an initial count of zero. This sets the semaphore's state to nonsignaled and blocks all threads from accessing the protected resource. When the application finishes its initialization, it uses ReleaseSemaphore to increase the count to its maximum value, to permit normal access to the protected resource.

It is not possible to reduce the semaphore object count using ReleaseSemaphore, because lReleaseCount cannot be a negative number. To temporarily restrict or reduce access, create a loop in which you call the WaitForSingleObject function with a time-out interval of zero until the semaphore count has been reduced sufficiently. (Note that other threads can reduce the count while this loop is being executed.) To restore access, call ReleaseSemaphore with the release count equal to the number of times WaitForSingleObject was called in the loop.


For an example that uses ReleaseSemaphore, see Using Semaphore Objects.


Minimum supported client

Windows XP [desktop apps | Windows Store apps]

Minimum supported server

Windows Server 2003 [desktop apps | Windows Store apps]

Minimum supported phone

Windows Phone 8


WinBase.h on Windows XP, Windows Server 2003, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2008 R2 (include Windows.h);
Synchapi.h on Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012





See also

Semaphore Objects
Synchronization Functions



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